Kashmir: need for serious dialogue with its civil society

An unfortunate fallout of the recent incidents in Pulwama and other regions of Kashmir is the targeting of Kashmiri students in different parts of the country. Several colleges in Dehradun, for instance, have been forced by right wing activists to give a written undertaking that they would not admit Kashmiri students. It has become unsafe for these students to live and study in other parts of India and, in a virtual exodus, they have moved to their homes in the Valley.

Alienation of the people of Kashmir especially the youth is a living reality. India and Pakistan attained independence in 1947 and all the princely States except Kashmir, merged into either of the two countries. Pakistan demanded that Kashmir, a Muslim majority State, should accede to it but the ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, did not comply. In 1948, Pashtun tribesmen invaded the Kashmir Valley with the support of the Pakistani government. The ruler of Kashmir asked India for help. The Government of India demanded that Kashmir should first accede to India and the ruler agreed. India then sent forces to Kashmir and the invasion was stopped.

At present, Kashmir is divided into a part controlled by Pakistan and another controlled by India with the dividing line known as the Line of Control. In 1948, India raised the Kashmir issue at the UN Security Council and the Council called upon Pakistan to secure the withdrawal from Kashmir of all Pakistani tribesmen and citizens and also resolved that the Government of India should hold a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Neither the withdrawal nor the plebiscite did ever take place. In 1962, India and China fought a border war. China occupied a part of Ladakh now called Aksai Chin.

In 1972, India and Pakistan signed a peace accord, the Simla Agreement, and both sides agreed to settle their differences through peaceful means mutually agreed upon. Both the countries committed themselves not to alter the Line of Control in Kashmir. Since the 1990s, violence has intensified in the Kashmir Valley. The Indian military respond with repression to terrorism, foreign infiltration and domestic insurgency which are now all mixed up. Human rights abuses are from both the sides, militants and security forces and innocent citizens are often the victims.

Kashmiryat proclaims the culture and civilisation of the Kashmiri people. It cuts across sectarian barriers. Most of the Kashmiri Muslims follow Hindu customs. For instance, the succession to property is often as per the Hindu Mithakshara law. The Pandits are an integral part of the Kashmiri society and they have made a significant contribution to its literature and culture. Several Kashmiri Muslim saints like Shaikh Noor-ud-din are worshipped also by the Pandits. This brotherhood is an integral part of Kashmiryat. Inter-religious amity characterises the Kashmiri ethos. However, human rights violations in the Valley have forced the exodus of tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits. They left the Valley and most of them now live under miserable conditions in Jammu, Delhi and wherever they can find shelter.

Kashmir consists of three major areas - Ladakh in the north-east, the Kashmir Valley and Jammu in the south. Whilst the people of Ladakh and Jammu are generally happy with the Indian rule, the situation in the Kashmir Valley is different and is presently worse than ever before. The Kashmir Valley is one of the most militarised zones in the world. About 8000 people, including security personnel, have been injured or killed in recent times. The Kashmir Valley is often under curfew which paralyses the Administration, shuts down educational institutions and results in zero attendance at Government offices. Nowhere in India was such a dismal situation ever witnessed. There is political radicalisation of the youth in the Valley. Alienated youths are now leading the anti-India protests. Even women and girls for the first time throw stones and hit police vehicles.

Secessionists in Kashmir are with the Hurriyat Conference. Prime Minister Vajpayee's strategy was to accept Hurriyat offer to act as a bridge to Pakistan. He told Parliament in April 23, 2003: "I assured the people of J&K that we wish to resolve all issues, both domestic and external, through talks. I stressed that the gun can solve no problem; brotherhood can. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaniyat (humanism), Jamhooriat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir's age-old legacy of amity).

In my speech, I spoke of extending our hand of friendship to Pakistan. At the same time, I also said that this hand of friendship should be extended by both sides. Both countries should resolve that we need to live together in peace".

Recently, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah recalled the solution proposed by Prime Minister Vajpayee that the present Line of Control should be converted into an international border. Pakistan should maintain sovereignty over the Kashmir territory which it holds whilst India will maintain sovereignty over the Kashmir on this side of the Line of Control.

Dr Karan Singh, a senior Congress leader and the last Yuvraj of Jammu and Kashmir, pointed out in the Rajya Sabha that the relations of Jammu and Kashmir with India are governed by Art. 370 of the Constitution and that only three subjects — Defence, Foreign affairs and Communications — are within the jurisdiction of the Government of India. All other matters are to be decided by the State Assembly. "My father acceded for three subjects only, which included Defence, Communications and Foreign affairs. He signed the same Treaty of Accession as the other princely states. All others states subsequently merged but J&K did not merge with India." he said. The crux of his viewpoint was restoration of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir when it had its own wazire-azam (Prime Minister) and sadr-e-riyasat (Head of State), the twin powers subsequently reduced to the administrative posts of Chief Minister and Governor, respectively. He sought humane introspection. "Why is it that thousands and thousands of young people have embarked on a path that will only bring death and destruction to themselves and to their loved ones? Why is this happening? I think we have got to introspect very carefully and humanely."

The State Governments of both territories of Kashmir should have full autonomy. India and Pakistan can offer them the substance of independence without yielding sovereignty. All political parties should work together in this endeavour. The Government of India should without delay initiate a dialogue with civil society and moderate groups and then with Pakistan and the separatist factions to bring in a permanent solution and establish peace and tranquillity in Kashmir.

The writer is a former Union Minister

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